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Will “White America” Ever Truly Empathize?

On September 3, Virginia Randal wrote a 5-star Amazon review of my novel, Betrayal in Black, calling the book “Tragically Realistic.”

Ms. Randal wrote:

This country has been increasingly more divided, and racial tensions have been growing seemingly out of control recently, and I picked up this book as a way to possibly gain a little perspective on current issues. I thought that this book did an excellent job of taking a story that could be pulled from today's headlines and portraying it in a very real and human way. Instead of reading like ‘just another statistic’ or news story, this book portrayed a tragedy in a much more personal and human way, and it was very easy as a reader to empathize with the Hayes family throughout their ordeal.”

About a month ago, I asked on Facebook: “How many innocent black men must die at the hands of those who swear to ‘protect and serve’ until we stop this madness?”

I was quite disappointed with the vast majority of the responses. Here are a few of the many like-minded responses:

“Why is it only black people have problems with the police? Blacks compromise 12% of the population yet are responsible for 35% of ALL VIOLENT CRIME in the U.S. 75% of black families are single parent, no father. Maybe it’s time for the black community to look in the mirror instead of blaming everyone else for their problems.”

“If you keep voting for Democrats who use racism as a political tool, it will never end.”

“How many whites have to die? Everyone is concerned about Blacks. Have you forgotten that he tried to pass a counterfeit $20 bill? That’s why he was stopped.”

“How many innocent? A whole lot more have died at the hand of other black men.”

Remember Ms. Randal’s words from the review? It was very easy as a reader to empathize with the Hayes family throughout their ordeal.” Empathy is what is missing in the tirade of these Facebook responders. There is no personal, human, or empathetic sympathy for a black person. Why?

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument only, that these responders are correct. We’ll assume that black citizens commit a disproportionate amount of crime in America. We’ll assume that George Floyd knowingly passed a $20 counterfeit bill. We’ll assume that blacks are dying at the hands of other blacks. Let’s even assume some Democrats are using racism as a political tool, and we’ll assume some Republicans are, too. Remember, please, I’m not conceding the truth of any these assumptions, but these comments and commenters completely missed the point of my original post and my book, which is:

Do we now live in an America where a police officer, whose job it is to protect and serve the community, is permitted to stop, accuse, arrest, convict, and execute a suspect?

I use the word “suspect” deliberately. Citizens of this country, black or white, are still innocent until PROVEN guilty. Can a cop detain a suspect? Yes. Can the cop arrest and handcuff the suspect for what the cop believes to be criminal activity? Yes. Can the cop determine the suspects' guilt, decide what the sentence shall be (death), and carry it out (killing the suspect)? No! Absolutely Not!

Police officers swear an oath to protect and serve; criminals do not. The argument that blacks kill more blacks than cops do is a red herring. Police officers have an essential and challenging job. However, despite the intense scrutiny focused on police departments in the aftermath of the George Floyd incident and the nationwide protests that have followed, a police officer chased Jacob Blake around a car and shot him seven times in the back. The media hardly mentions Rayshard Brooks, whose alleged crimes were sleeping in a car while drunk and tasing (non-lethal) the cop who tried to arrest him for it. Recently, another video surfaced that shows a naked black man, Daniel Prude, being smothered by police with a “spit hood.”

These injustices have nothing to do with Democratic or Republican politics. They are not, nor should not, be political issues. The idea that “black people have problems with the police” (a perspective of many white people who lack experience with the system) does not give the cops the right to detain, arrest, sentence, and execute suspects (citizens of the USA). It is a straightforward concept and why Lady Justice wears a blindfold.

When will we white people be able to put ourselves in George Floyd’s or Jacob Blake’s shoes? Can we put ourselves in Marcus Hayes’ car (the victim of my fictional novel, Betrayal in Black)?

I have been a lawyer in Detroit for over 44 years. I have seen the system up close and personal. I have seen the charging differences, the sentencing differences, blacks in predominately white towns, pulled over for no discernible reason other than being black.

The justice system is supposed to be blind, the great equalizer – we are all equal in the eyes of the law, right? However, our criminal justice system is stacked against minorities and/or people without significant resources to defend themselves.

These incidents have sparked an outcry. “Black Lives Matter” may have more influence than it has had in the past. Mass protests are taking place in numerous cities across the country, and peaceful protest is an essential constitutional right. The First Amendment is one of the most important tools in a citizen’s arsenal.

Betrayal in Black, the fourth novel in the Zachary Blake Legal Thriller series, pays homage to the victims of racial injustice and the imbalance of power between a black citizen and a police officer. The novel does not blame all cops for racial injustice, nor does it blame any particular race of people for America’s crime or gun problems. However, to deny the existence of racism in America or racial profiling by police is to deny reality.

What will it take to change white people’s attitudes and actions toward people of color? I wish I knew. What I do know is that we cannot succeed as a country unless we come together as one America. We, the People must be more than a slogan; it must become our creed.

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